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A GOP immigration reform bill has no chance in a GOP that calls immigrants 'disgusting'

Miami Herald
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (right) speaking at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami on Monday, Feb 7 with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez.

COMMENTARY GOP U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar's legislation is welcome — but ugly remarks by GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signal why it's likely doomed.

Two important immigration stories happened in South Florida this week. One was encouraging. The other was, well, disgusting — and it will, disgustingly, overwhelm the encouraging one.

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The encouraging development was immigration reform legislation offered by Republican Miami Congresswoman Maria Elvira Salazar. Her “Dignity Act” would help legalize the status of undocumented immigrants who prop up large swaths of the U.S. economy, and would attempt to bring a modicum of immigration management back to the hot mess at the U.S.’s southern border.

Some immigrant advocates criticize her proposal for making the undocumented jump through too many hoops for U.S. residency and citizenship. For example: a $10,000 “restitution” fee, payable over 10 years and deposited in a border security fund, for having entered the country illegally. But those kinds of provisos may be the only way to get today’s Republican Party on board any immigration overhaul that hands a pathway to undocumented migrants.

OK, wait, who the hell am I kidding? There’s no way today’s GOP will ever get behind the measure Salazar presented on Tuesday. And to understand why you only have to read the cruelty Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spewed on Monday.

READ MORE: Today Tel Aviv, tomorrow Tegucigalpa! Florida's governor-president solves immigration

DeSantis for months has been pushing bills and executive orders that essentially bar Florida from receiving unaccompanied migrant children, even asylum-seekers. Then on Monday, in Miami, he called it “disgusting” to compare what he termed those criminally undocumented kids to the Cuban refugee children who were airlifted here in the 1960s under the “Pedro Pan” program.

DeSantis was, of course, Cuban exile vote-grubbing. More important for his re-election bid and 2024 presidential ambitions, he was MAGA base vote-grubbing. Either way, it was one of the more inhumane pieces of nativist spite we’ve heard yet from the Tallahassee Trump — even compared to his refusal to condemn a band of Nazis who stomped through Orlando last month waving swastikas and screaming anti-Semitic sewage.

And it shows, in a right-wing nutshell, why Salazar’s bill hasn’t a snowball’s chance in Miami of passing in Washington — especially when (yes, I said “when,” not “if”) Republicans take back Congress next year and the White House in 2024, possibly if not probably in the person of DeSantis himself.

Calling it “disgusting” to suggest that kids fleeing hellish places like Honduras are worthy of the same compassion Americans showed for Cuban youths escaping Castro — that itself is disgusting.

We can and should debate America’s broken immigration system. But saying it’s “disgusting” to suggest that scared, desperate minors fleeing destitute, gang-ravaged barrios in Honduras are worthy of the same civic compassion Americans showed for Cuban youths escaping Castro — that itself is disgusting.

Even so, pandering to the most bigoted impulses of White Christian grievance is now a daily reflex of the Republican base’s standard bearers.


Which is why today’s GOP – unrecognizable to someone like me, who grew up in Indiana revering decency-minded Republicans like the late Sen. Richard Lugar — will likely cast out Salazar’s legislation as if it were an antifa demon. They’ll slap the cursed scarlet letter “A” on it for “amnesty” and vilify it as a reward for law-breaking. They’ll compare it to the break Republican President Ronald Reagan cut undocumented immigrants in 1986 — which they regard as the original sin that opened the gate to all the brown, non-English-speaking job stealers defiling America today.

Aliens who, according to the Trump and Tallahassee Trump mantras, are also violent criminals — even if they do make tomatoes and lawn service affordable for the Trump supporters who would never pick vegetables or cut grass. As Trump acolytes like DeSantis tell it, once you give shelter to an asylum-seeking kid whose relatives are getting murdered by MS-13 in Tegucigalpa, you’re letting in a dollar-sponging punk who’ll be murdering Americans in Tampa.

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Unaccompanied child migrants at a shelter in Homestead last year.

Sadly, that’s how Republican votes are all too often won today — that, and by accusing the non-Trumpist world of being “socialist.” And there’s where Salazar is in many ways her immigration reform bill’s own worst enemy. If McCarthyism and racism are two of the GOP’s uglier pillars today, Salazar has helped prop up both — by gratuitously hurling the “socialista” epithet around like a Puritan during a Salem witch hunt, especially at the Black Lives Matter racial justice movement.

If Salazar wants to belong to a Republican Party that will find her immigration bill encouraging, she herself will have to stop encouraging what’s disgusting about the party right now.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.